Monday, January 14, 2008

WoW Temptations: Hoarding Money

The game has in-game money (gold coins). A character always has a certain amount of coins, a certain amount of liquid assets.

Within the game there is very little need for these coins. Most characters have a small set of fixed expense needs:
  • Weapons and armor get worn out with use and need repairs. This is typically the largest expense category. However, a good guild will provide a daily allotment of funding for repair bills that is more than adequate for most characters.
  • As a character accumulates experience he or she can be trained to have new skills and must pay for this training. This series of one-time expenses is noticeable but typically is much less than repair bills.
  • Three times (at levels 40, 60, and 70) a character can purchase a better riding animal. These are very expensive one-time purchases. A character can adventure without the riding animal appropriate for its level but will move more slowly than its peers, which makes working in groups very annoying to other players. Since working in groups is the point of the game these purchases are more truly needs than luxuries.
  • To travel in between major towns a character typically takes a "taxi" by riding a flying creature who conveys the character quickly from one town's "taxi station" to the other. This costs a very minimal amount of coins.
There is never a need to spend time specifically earning coins. The rewards a character gains from quests will nearly cover the above expenses even if the character's guild is not paying repair bills.

If a character has a guild that pays repair bills, or if the character sells its surplus equipment to others at the game's auction house it will have plenty of coins for the above expenses.

Most characters have a slightly more complex financial life because they learn a complimentary gathering and crafting profession. For example, my character can mine and smelt metal ore (gathering) and us the resulting metal bars to build metal engineering devices (crafting). Occasionally a character will have some interesting crafting projects to work on that require more gathered materials than the character owns. Just as often, a character has gathered more materials than its recipes currently need. A good guild allows characters to share gathered materials so all guild members can create their interesting crafting projects. In any case, the gathering and crafting professions are tangential to the rest of the game: a character can be completely successful without pursuing either, or by only pursuing either when convenient.

Finally, there is the auction house at which characters can sell and buy items they do not want. Once again, using the auction house is never a necessity. There are a very few quests that require a gathered or crafted item a character might not be able to come up with by himself or herself. But these quests can be skipped, or help can be obtained from guild-mates or even complete strangers.

That's all there is to the game's economy. Unlike real life there is never the risk of a large, unplanned expense. No one has to worry about paying for unexpected car repairs, a water heater that breaks, a leaky roof, or a new baby. In the game a player can easily tell if his or her character has the coins to pay for that list of fixed expenses.

I have never met or even heard of a player whose goal was to have a character with as many coins as possible. But I often meet players who wail, "If only my character had a few more coins."

This is like real life. No matter how large your bank account is it cannot provide security or happiness. Anyone can get deathly ill, be in an accident, or need to take care of family or friends suffering from illness or accident. People who have not learned to be happy with a moderate income will not be made happy by a larger income.

At the same time, people often want to buy something nifty at the store (at the auction house) or do something interesting through recreation or travel (craft a fun item that requires expensive materials). There is a temptation to overestimate how much we will enjoy obtaining a certain something. There is a second temptation allow the pleasure of obtaining a pleasant thing reduced to a fleeting pleasure because by looking at the next pleasant thing to desire.

So, as in real life, the secret in the game to financial contentment is to budget your expenses, save up for your few large upcoming expenses, and occasionally buy yourself a treat that you really value and which brings lasting enjoyment. If the game teaches this to a generation of teenagers that's a more important lesson than is taught by most games or television shows.

Also, as in real life, the money we say we own is not really ours. In real life it is God's money which he lets us manage. In the game the Terms of Use clearly state that the game company owns all players' characters and items (as is necessary for the company to be able to ban accounts of players who misbehave).

Unlike real life, the game abounds with incredibly generous people. Partly it is because it is easier to be generous with pretend money. Partly it is because the lack of unplanned expenses allow players to be generous with their surplus without worry. And partly it is because people more clearly understand that they do not own the coins their characters carry.

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